What should our schools be teaching?

Last night I went to another meeting of the Madison Metro. School District’s Technology Advisory Board. These meetings are looking for input from technology professionals into the way our schools utilize technology in all sorts of different areas. It’s great that the board is seeking this input although nothing we do is binding in any sort of way. My impression so far is that there are more than a few tech-savvy professionals in the school system, most of the people that aren’t are certainly willing to learn given their time constraints, and some need to be pulled along kicking and screaming. Just like any other organization, really.

I certainly don’t have a degree in pedagogy, so I actually lean towards the cautious when it comes to injecting technology into any situation that I don’t fully comprehend. There’s nothing inherent in a computer that’s going to make kids smarter if everyone has one. But is it the school’s job to teach computers how to use computers? If so, which kind of computers? Macs? PCs? Linux? Which apps? Microsoft Office? Google Apps? Once you start going down this road, you see the school is in danger of becoming more of a trade school than… than what?

What is the purpose of our schools? I would argue in the broadest sense that they should teach our kids how to think and solve problems. Where does gym class fit into that? Driver’s ed? Should they teach hard facts, when everyone has Google at their fingertips? When was the Magna Carta written? (types for 2 seconds… 1297!) WHY was the Magna Carta written? Who was for it? Who was against it? What did it do for mankind?

And speaking of information at your fingertips, what would the ramifications be if every student were allowed an iPad or Android or whatever newfangled device is available when you read this? One side would argue that there would be anarchy as they sext each other all day long! Others say it would create a utopia where peers are in constant collaborative contact. Could a teacher even conduct a lesson when everyone’s facedown in their PDA?

Last night at the MadDotNet user group I had a period of about 15 minutes between when my iPhone battery died and I figured out how to connect to Herzing’s wifi where I had to sit still and listen to the speaker. I got more out of that period than the entire rest of the day, and I think that says a lot. What say you?



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